For Tonight We Might Die

Posted in Episode by - July 03, 2018
For Tonight We Might Die

Aired 22 October 2016

Despite the popular notion that Doctor Who is a children’s programme, its wildly varying format, tone, and characters have always been tailored to appeal to all ages in equal measure. Capitalizing on the runaway success of the rejuvenated show that re-launched in 2005, Class represents the third BBC spin-off, following in the footsteps of the more adult-oriented Torchwood and the more children-friendly The Sarah Jane Adventures, series that again were able to bridge those age distinctions to some effect. Set at Coal Hill Academy that is so important within the annals of Doctor Who going right back to ‘An Unearthly Child’ and that has since become a beacon through space-time because of an artron energy buildup, Class follows a group of senior students who unwittingly find themselves charged with saving their school and community when a certain Time Lord is absent.

Any premiere has a tremendous to-do list to try to accomplish, and aside from delivering an intriguing plot for this episode and setting up narrative threads for the future, ‘For Tonight We Might Die’ is also tasked with introducing its large ensemble of characters and firmly grounding this world within the Doctor Who universe. The more troubled alien prince Charlie brought with his servant to Earth by the Doctor and handling a budding romance with classmate Matteusz, the intelligent Tanya who is self-conscious about skipping several grades and who has unreciprocated feelings for the bold athlete Ram who proudly follows the Sikh faith, and April who deals with feelings of invisibility while coping with her complex family history form an unlikely team to investigate strange occurrences, but it’s to the credit of all involved that these students quickly come to life as fairly realistic and complicated individuals with backstories and feelings treated with tact and respect. Greg Austin, Jordan Renzo, Vivian Oparah, Fady Elsayed, and Sophie Hopkins have a solid chemistry and show plenty of potential for even more meaningful portrayals going forward, but the undoubted scene stealer at least in this premiere is Katherine Kelly as Miss Quill, an enslaved former freedom fighter whose own morality and hardly-shrouded anger should continue to deliver meaningful drama as the series progresses.

Indeed, ‘For Tonight We Might Die’ hits the ground running with fairly solid characterisation and a meaningful plot, even if some of the character beats at this point do seem quite closely related to others within the earlier Doctor Who spin-offs. Still, a gun that kills both the target and the shooter is a pretty high-brow concept that brings with it an intriguing wrinkle to the very relevant terror of gun crime, and the conflict between Rhodia and Quill highlights just what the term benefactor truly means if those more fortunate help the less fortunate in a way that suits only themselves in the long run. This is a conflict steeped in brutal otherworldly history, and Class does a remarkably good job of presenting these many aspects in a way that is perfectly suitable for a young adult audience without ever coming off as patronizing or too heavy-handed while also successfully setting up the more ominous Shadow Kin threat that killed so many Rhodians and Quills alike. The episode doesn’t quite manage to streamline its discourse and presentation quite as well as its parent franchise given how quickly new complications are added throughout, but this is a strong first effort at building up this world that avoids many of the pitfalls that teen dramas often stumble upon early in their runs.

It will be interesting to see how Class develops going forward given how quickly the action progresses and the characters are introduced. The cast members are clearly talented enough to meaningfully deliver any plot turns and dialogue that come their way given how well they handle the heavy subjects of retribution, guilt, and even genocide, and hopefully the show will take the time needed to thoroughly flesh out these intriguing individuals without simply focusing on the otherworldly threats they will encounter. There are some narrative shortcuts needed to get characters to where they need to be and set up certain elements of the plot without clunky exposition, but the overall affair is a surprisingly polished one that benefits from the students’ willingness to openly engage with one another and the intriguing elements of April losing her heart, Ram losing his girlfriend and his leg, and Charlie’s continued surprising connection to his past. The appearance of the always-brilliant Peter Capaldi as the Doctor unquestionably cements this show’s position with fans and adds an extra layer or excitement to this premiere, and although that appearance does inevitably take away from at least some of the potential character development of the new leads, there is plenty to look forward to as the series progresses.

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